The Battle of Dewey’s Pond: Volunteers Battle Milfoil in Quechee
Gary Gray, left, of White River Junction, and his son Nick, 17, remove milfoil during a volunteer milfoil removal day at Dewey's Pond in Quechee on Saturday, September 14, 2013. The efforts of volunteers complement divers who have been working all week using a suction harvester. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
The seed pods of a milfpoil plant are seen in Dewey's Pond in Quechee on Saturday, September 14, 2013. The plant is an invasive species that originally is from Eurasia. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Adam Potter, 14, left, Keith Illingworth, 13, and Connor Chandler, 14, remove milfoil during a volunteer milfoil removal day at Dewey's Pond in Quechee on Saturday, September 14, 2013. The three are Hartford High Schoolers who volunteered to earn community service hours for school. The efforts of volunteers complement divers who have been working all week using a suction harvester to remove the invasive plant. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Gary Pelton, of Weathersfield, Vt., dumps a bucket of milfoil into a truck bed during a volunteer milfoil removal day at Dewey's Pond in Quechee on Saturday, September 14, 2013. Pelton volunteered to write grant applications on behalf of the town of Hartford to fund the project, which includes divers using a suction harvester. Pelton worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for over 38 years and knew Dewey's before the milfoil invasion. "It's one project I didn't want to give up on when I retired", he said. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Adam Potter, 14, throws milfoil at a friend while volunteering at a milfoil removal day at Dewey's Pond in Quechee on Saturday, September 14, 2013. Potter is a Hartford High student who earned community service hours for the work. The efforts of volunteers complement divers who have been working all week using a suction harvester. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee — Matt Barry used to love to go fishing with his young son at Dewey’s Pond, just as his dad did with him back in the 1980s, when Barry was growing up in Tunbridge. Barry and his boy caught bass and pike and the occasional panfish, he said.
But Saturday, standing on a boat launch off of Quechee Main Street, Barry said he wasn’t out to hook a fish.
“That’s what we’re after,” he said, pointing to mushy plant rising from bottom of the pond. “It’s choking this place out.”
Barry was part of a volunteer team that spent the day fighting back, one pull at a time, against Eurasian milfoil, the invasive plant that has taken root in every part of the pond, crowding out native plants and — aside from Barry and a few others — driving away all but a few visitors to the once-beloved spot.
Milfoil spread quickly after 2002, when it was first detected in Dewey’s Pond. The pond is controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers, state regulators and the town of Hartford.
But by late August 2011, regulators had made a serious dent, mostly through the use of a suction harvester, essentially a milfoil vacuum. One more push in the spring of 2012, experts figured, and they could effectively render Dewey’s Pond milfoil-free.
But those plans, like so much else in Vermont, were destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene.
The storm dumped tons of sediment into the pond — a 25-foot-deep section of the pond was only 12 feet deep after Irene swept through, according to wildlife biologist Gary Pelton, of Weathersfield, who hosted yesterday’s volunteer day.
And that gave milfoil the opportunity to return, in force.
The sediment covered the pond floor and the native plants, which usually block milfoil’s ability to take root, and essentially created a whole new bottom.
Milfoil, which begins growing earlier in the spring and finishes later in the fall than native plants, had its opening to return.
Now, Pelton said, about 35 percent of the pond is covered by milfoil, and the remaining 65 percent has some milfoil present. That coverage makes paddling unpleasant and fishing all but impossible. Pelton said he retrieves a couple of snagged fishing lures every day he spends pulling the weed.
Pelton spearheaded cleanup efforts at Dewey’s Pond during his time in the Army Corps of Engineers. When he retired last year, he carried on his pet project. Now spends many of his summer days snorkeling or canoeing and pulling up milfoil.
“This is the one thing I didn’t give up on when I left” the Corps of Engineers, said Pelton. “I want to see this pond cleaned of milfoil, so people can use it. I hardly ever see anyone out here anymore.”
Aside from Pelton’s one-man cleanup initiative, the other major effort to clean Dewey’s Pond comes in the form of an annual deployment of the suction harvester. That $11,000 project is run by the state and funded by a state grant, which Pelton volunteers to write, that comes with a catch — it requires a match in the form of volunteer hours devoted to eradicating the plant.
Pelton provides many of those hours. Saturday’s volunteer day helped boost the total — 10 people, including a few Hartford High School students looking to accumulate volunteer hours, started pulling up the weed by 11 a.m.
Shawn Joyce, of Hartford, said his son’s Boy Scout troop also contributed volunteers to battle the plant that has all but ruined one of their favorite kayaking spots.
“We like to paddle on the pond and fish, and the weeds are just killing us,” Joyce said. “We decided (volunteering) would be a good Saturday afternoon activity.”
Even an army of volunteers could make little difference in one day, Pelton acknowledged. But putting out the call for help, Pelton said, had an ancillary benefit.
“I want to get more community involvement,” he said, “and get it out to people in this community that this pond is saveable.”
Mark Davis can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3304.